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National Cholesterol Month 2021: Why should you care about your cholesterol levels?

National cholesterol month is an entire month dedicated to raising awareness of high cholesterol, the health implications and reducing your numbers.

Cholesterol is a topic that many of us don’t really understand – we just know the word and that there is a good and bad version of it.

So, what is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in our blood which our bodies use for several reasons including producing hormones and building healthy cell walls in our brain, nerves and muscles. Approximately 80% of cholesterol is produced in our bodies and the other 20% is from the foods we eat. Physical activity, or inactivity, also influences our cholesterol levels.

Good cholesterol and bad cholesterol

We all have both good and bad cholesterol. Your good cholesterol, also known as ‘HDL’, transports cholesterol to your liver. While your bad cholesterol, also known as ‘LDL’, transports cholesterol to your arteries. But it’s the ratio of the good and bad cholesterol that is important and could potentially be detrimental to your health.

Having too much bad or total cholesterol in the arteries of your heart can lead to blockages and heart attacks and the same applies to the arteries of the brain, of which a blockage can lead to a stroke.

High LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol is associated with 1 in 4 heart and circulatory disease deaths in the UK and close to half of adults in the UK are living with cholesterol levels above the national guidelines.

What are the causes of high cholesterol?

There are a number of causes of high cholesterol, broken down into things that you can control and things that you can’t control.

The causes that you can control include:

  • Eating a lot of saturated or trans fats
  • Smoking
  • Not being active enough
  • Having too much body fat, especially around your middle

The causes that you can’t control are:

  • Getting older
  • Ethnic background
  • Family history

What can you do to change this?

Making some small lifestyle changes or adding new healthy habits can be a great way of reducing or preventing elevated cholesterol levels.

Reduce the amount of saturated fat you consume

Some examples include sausages and fatty cuts of meat, cream, hard cheeses, cakes, biscuits and other processed foods, foods containing coconut or palm oil. Try to replace foods containing saturated fats with small amounts of foods high in unsaturated fats such as oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados and vegetable oils and spreads.

Eat plenty of fibre

Eating plenty of fibre helps to lower your risk of heart disease, and some high-fibre foods can help to lower your cholesterol. You should aim to eat a mixture of fibre sources and some good examples are wholemeal bread, fruit and vegetables, skin-on potatoes, oats and pulses.

Be more active

An active lifestyle can also help lower your cholesterol level. Activities can range from walking and cycling to more vigorous exercise, such as running and energetic dancing.

Doing 150 minutes (this is just 22 minutes a day) of moderate aerobic activity every week can improve your cholesterol levels.

Reduce your alcohol intake

Cutting down on alcohol can help you to lower your cholesterol levels. It can improve your heart health in other ways too, by helping to look after your liver, your blood pressure, your weight and your waistline.

Reduce or quit smoking if applicable

Stopping smoking is one of the best things you can do for your cholesterol, your heart and your health. Within days your health will begin to improve and within a year your risk of heart disease will be halved.

Cholesterol testing

Testing your cholesterol levels is a very simple process that involves a tiny pinprick of blood and can help you to understand your cholesterol levels and track any changes that may be relevant to your lifestyle. This can be done either with your GP, healthcare provider, or through Healthy Performance Onsite Health Assessments.

To find out more about cholesterol testing and Healthy Performance Onsite Health Assessments, please click here:

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